Getting Chai with Y: An Interview with the Biblical Hip Hop Master, Y-Love
Posted by challahbackgirl on December 21, 2007
Getting Chai with Y: An Interview with the Biblical Hip Hop Master, Y-Love
By Eric Samuels
It was Wednesday afternoon. Shalom and I were tabling for Hillel, like we usually do on Wednesday, except this time was a bit different. Besides the free Shabbat dinners and “Bagels Lox and Torah” class flyers, we had quarter sheets advertising this guy named Y-Love. Yitzchak Jordan, akaY-Love, the African American hip-hop artist from Brooklyn who converted to Orthodox Judaism.
I could tell Hillel put a lot of work into getting Y-Love to UCSC, as Shalom and I passed out a quarter sheet to nearly every passing student. I was a bit skeptical at first, as Shalom and I are both devout Phish fans, but Shalom assured me that Y-Love’s music is quite “unique” and he was going to put on a good show. Shalom was right. The next night, I went to the concert and had a blast. Y-Love’s verbiage in English was not the only thing that struck my ear, but also his ability to rap in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Aramaic. That’s right! Aramaic…the language everyone spoke in that awful Mel Gibson movie. After the show in Santa Cruz, I asked him if I could interview him Sunday at a show he was playing in San Francisco, and he gladly accepted. Sunday came, and around 20 UCSC students schlepped themselves to San Francisco. After the show, my girlfriend interviewed Teapacks while I looked for Y-Love. As soon as my girlfriend finished her interview, I was ready to do mine:
Eric Samuels (ES): Why did you decide to convert to Judaism?
YLOVE: I wanted to be Jewish my entire life. Ever since I was 7 years old. I saw a commercial that said “Happy Passover from Channel 2” and I told my mother that I wanted to be Jewish. I knew there was a group of people called Jews and that I wanted to be one of them. So I never had a lot of that soul-searching process like “This is true,” “That’s not true,” I just knew whatever Jews believe is the truth. So, you want to find out the truth, find out what Jews believe. You could have told me that Jews shave their eyebrows and I would have done it. Instinct – that’s how I would describe it. I never had any questions that Judaism was the truth or that the Torah was true.
ES: That’s cool. Does your family support your conversion?
YLOVE: Since then both of my parents have passed away and so have all four of my biological grandparents. My mother, before she passed away, she never got it, she never really understood it. She was never really supportive. My grandmother, on the other hand, my mother’s mother, wanted to be Jewish her whole life. So she, at the time, growing up during the times of segregation, the law was in Baltimore that if you were lighter than a brown paper bag you could enter through the white entrances and otherwise you had to enter through the colored entrances. So, my grandmother was Puerto Rican, so she was lighter than a brown paper bag and she could enter through the white entrances. The same people who hate colored people hate Jews. So who owned the white-owned stores and the white entrances was all Jews. She was shopping for this one and running errands for that one. She said she played with little yeshiva kids when she was little. She always had this wonderful, positive rapport with Jews. So when I decided that I wanted to be Jewish, she said that she was living through me. Right before she passed away, she denounced Christianity. We had a whole question of could we convert her before dying, and the actual law is no. But yeah, she was overly, extremely supportive of my entire life[style]. She bought my first menorah when I was nine, my first Chumash when I was twelve. I haven’t eaten on Yom Kippur since I was six years old.
ES: Wow…that’s what I was going to say…you were pretty young, but what did you think about Israel before you converted to Judaism?
YLOVE: I always knew it was the holy land, but I never had any real connection to it like I do now. Once you’re Jewish, the way you look at everything just changes drastically. So yeah, Israel never felt like a place that I had a real personal connection to until I became Jewish.
ES: Yeah, that goes into the next question, which is: what does Israel mean to you now?
YLOVE: Hmmmm…ok…to me, there is Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and Midinat Yisrael [the State of Israel]. Eretz Yisrael I will never stop loving ‘till the day I die, and I want to make aliyah [move to Israel] and everything, but, you gotta understand, I converted in 2000, my conversion was legit in 2000, and I went to Israel, to yeshiva, to
Or Sameach…I went to yeshivas there in Jerusalem. Because of the new law, my conversion is not legit in Israel anymore. So if I want to make aliyah tomorrow, I have to go from Brooklyn to New Jersey, pay this baisden three thousand dollars, and they’ll do my [conversion] over again, so it will be accepted by the Rabbinate. Now, Russians are getting in with fake papers left and right and you have Neo Nazis in Petach Tikva and in Tel Aviv. I’m not going to stand behind that. I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m going to hold some blue and white flag, and act like this represents the Torah…It doesn’t. And so Israel, when people say the State of Israel, I’ll sit there with people with kaffiyahs and bitch like they will, but Eretz Yisrael, and Yerushalayim, the Kidusha, Tzfat, all these other wonderful things, it’s in my blood at this point. I can’t stop thinking about it [Eretz Yisrael] as much as I can’t stop thinking about Baltimore, where I am originally from. Yeah, but the politics, just pisses me off, you know, beyond anything. I personally think that Hok Hashuvah, the Law of Return, needs to be completely done away with, and rewritten from word one.
ES: So, what barriers have you encountered in joining the Jewish subculture in the United States?
YLOVE: Uhhhh… Yeah, you know there is racism and stuff.
ES: I mean besides…I know the barriers going into Israel…
YLOVE: Yeah, there is racism, like, during the process of conversion, I call it Selma, Alabama without the violence, like that’s the only way I can describe it. I’ve had…
oy vay…like, little kids telling me ‘you look like you just came out of an oven,’ Jewish kids telling me this. I had doors slammed in my face, literally, like I was in a yeshiva learning one Shabbos, and all the kids came up from downstairs and started making fun of me, and that particular night I left the yeshiva crying. I had a chick who told me-she called herself ‘white power’-and her boyfriend beat me up in the middle of Coney Island Avenue. Yeah, like, hardcore stuff [racism] happened during conversion. But, immediately after conversion, and once I went to yeshiva, it was 180 degree night and day difference. Now, a lot of the people who, for instance when I moved to New York to convert, I couldn’t find an apartment for eleven months, I didn’t get my first job in the Jewish community until 2003, no one wanted to have anything to do with me. But, after I came back from Israel, the same people who wouldn’t talk to me before, were now inviting me to Shabbos, and stuff like that. So, there was a lot of those types of barriers with racism, but this is one of the differences, like, people ask me why did I decided to become Chassidic, why did I decide to become ultra orthodox? One of my problems with the Modern Orthodox community, that’s where I received the most racism, was in non-ultra orthodox communities, because to the extent that an American Jew identifies himself as an American white man, i.e. independent of the Jewish context, that ‘I am an American, I am fitting into the regular American culture’ to the extent that he does, that will be the extent to which he buys into the American B.S. A lot of the Chassidic people… never really got tied into any one ‘culture,’ [because of ‘exile and expulsion’ and ‘re-admittance expulsion’] so they are not going to really buy into American culture so much, because they realize this could theoretically be temporary. In the Chasidic world, it was like, ‘you speak Yiddish, you dress like us, you live
After I came back from Israel, the same people who wouldn’t talk to me before, were now inviting me to Shabbos here, you live like we do, gesundheit…
ES: Wow…that’s rough…that is a lot of racism…that’s (stutter in disbelief)
YLOVE: Yeah, that’s a very big soap box of mine
At this point, the camera battery died, but our conversation did not.
My next question was why did he choose rap music? “Rap is the poor man’s art form,” he said. “It started in yeshiva when I would free style with the other students.” Next, I asked about his song “The New Disease” and if it was about the media. He replied that the “old disease” is the way Jews are portrayed in the media; however the “new disease” is the Jewish point of view. His preaching is considered the “new disease.” It is not there to infect per-se, but to teach…to fill the mind of Jews about the teachings of Judaism. I asked what he thought of the “Matisyahu scandal” and whether it affected his (Y-Love’s) publicity. He replied that it did not affect him because they are two separate entities. However, he was upset because people believe that it is Matisyahu’s fault. He further stated that you should not line yourself up with a sect, because that is where problems occur. I felt I should ask some relevant political questions as well. When I asked whether he was for the pull out in Gaza, he said he was against it. He said that they (the Israeli government) pulled out without a plan for the settlers. I asked if he thought a peaceful solution towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was possible. He said that Jews and Muslims should be able to look at each other, from a religious standpoint, and find a solution. I have to agree with his answer. At this point we were asked to leave so the management could clean the backstage. Y-Love and I shook hands, and I told him Iwould see him soon. The stories expressed to me throughout this interview left me with a new perspective towards Jewish society and converts to Judaism…and I feel I really learned the “life” of Y-Love.